Learning to Be Vulnerable

Free Expression Tunnel

Illustration of a maskGarry Morgan, associate director of diversity programs in the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity, recently spent a week with students and staff at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse (UWL) with the LeaderShape Institute. Here he explores one of the lessons he learned from the week.

“Vulnerability.” The term is often used as a buzzword in diversity, inclusion and counseling circles. During the Institute, LeaderShape participants provided unique insight regarding the embodiment of vulnerability.

In most dictionaries, “vulnerability” is defined as being open to physical harm or damage, or susceptible to emotional injury. Both descriptions are riddled with negativity and provide a clear understanding as to why people shy away from anything that would be associated with this word. Why would someone be willing to agree to physical and emotional harm?

We all have those aspects of ourselves which we keep from the eyes of others. However, what if these pieces of us allow others to see us as the complex, dynamic and wonderful people we are? The UWL faculty and students exposed the shards of ourselves that we often used in the past to cut others, or to keep others from engaging on any level that provided meaningful connection.

Not all students were willing to dive into the sharing process from the start; however, by day six, they all found their way into the vulnerability pool. So, what happened during the Institute? Something magical? Mystical? Unnatural? No. The only thing that occurred is that 60 people decided that the people who stood in front of them were more important than anything else they could have been doing. Each person took the time to listen and see the humanity in others, and by sharing their humanity, granted others the opportunity to expose their imperfect shards, free of judgment. One of the students talked about being afraid to “show people the real me.” In everyday life, this fear is palpable. It keeps us avoiding human connection and also, distant from the ability to know others deeply. So, to that end, James Baldwin is quoted as saying, “Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” From this point forward – masks down.

See the full Diversity Digest for this article and more.